The World We Make – by N.K. Jemisin

Just as planned! Soon after publishing my post about The City We Became, I got my copy of The World We Make and proceeded to read it with voracious excitement. Did it satisfy all my hopes, curiosities, cravings? We’ll talk about it in a second, although my unrestained enthusiasm is probably a spoiler in itself.

Title: The World We Make

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Publisher: Orbit Books

Publication Date: 1 November 2022

Genre: Fantasy Novel

Stand Alone or Series: Second book of the Great Cities series

Synopsis: After the events descibed in The City We Became, the avatars of New York are still dealing with the nightmarish city of R’lyeh , only temporarily defeated and now getting ready for a new attack. Once again, its supernatural menace goes hand in hand with a resurgence of alt-right activism, this time coalescing around a new mayoral candidate, who promises to “make New York great again” (just in case someone hadn’t grasped the political references yet). Councilwoman Brooklyn Thomason takes up the political challenge, in an election campaign that is largely a reflection of a much larger cosmic contention. At the same time, the avatars try to make contact with other cities, who may or may not take the current threats too seriously.

Analysis: Stylistically speaking, The World We Make follows the same scheme as The City We Became: prologue and epilogue are told in first person by New York’s main avatar, while everything else is divided by multiple points of view, all in third person subjective and adding their own flair to an overall cohesive tone. The prose is at once informal and literary, seamlessly weaving together lyricism and vernacular brusqueness, keeping a fast, energetic rhytm properly conveyed by its concise sentences and its use of present tense.

Second and final novel of the Great Cities duology, The World We Make brings to a proper conclusion what the previous novel had started; not just in terms of plot, but most importantly for what characters and the worldbuilding are concerned.

Where in The City We Became all protagonists were too busy with their immediate mission, as well as undertstandably surprised by their discoveries, to be fully fleshed out as characters, here both their personal identities and their interpersonal dynamics get the attention they deserve, turning them into a proper team with its own affinities and conflicts and growth. Even more than in the previous book, their ethnic and social identities play a significant role in their stories, thus highlighting real issues of discrimination and gentrification.

And yes, just as I hoped, previously underdeveloped characters find now their chance to shine; this is the case with Neek (NYC’s primary avatar), who already had a quite distinctive identity but had spent most of the time in a coma; as well as with Padmini/Queens, who in the hectic first novel was easily overlooked due to her quiet demeanour, while here ends up being one of the most interesting characters (besides, she counts as asexual representation – not that these books lack diversity of any kind, but it’s worth pointing out since it’s usually hard to come by).

The novel also provides us with a disclosure of Manny’s past, as well as with a more nuanced approach to Aislyn/Staten Island’s role – not necessarily a forgiving one, but one that acknowledges all ambiguities of a character who was meant less as a one-dimensional villain , and more like a study case on how to radicalise the normies (well, not that Aislyn is literally normal, but the way her vulnerabilities are exploited still count for the purpose).

As for the worldbuilding, we get a better understanding of the multiverse and its workings, in the form of some unapologetic quantum technobabble – the kind that doesn’t even try to sound sciency, but that provides a somehow understandable reference for an obviously magick concept. Most importantly, this comes with a different framework for the unsatisfying moral dilemmas that I had previously pointed out; providing an explanation that might be seen as wish fulfillment to the most disenchanted readers, but that on the other hand works very well on a metaphorical level and is perfectly suited to the spirit of the novel.

Conclusions & Recommendations: Even more than the previous book of the series, The World We Make is a stupendous novel, full of both action and personable scenes, with an engaging and enjoyable plot that doesn’t even try to hide its political message. Most importantly, it doesn’t shy away from unsettling topics – both real and fantastic – but at the same time leaves us on a hopeful, optimistic note that is very much needed these days. Recommended if… Recommended, end of story.

Content Warning: Racism – Xenophobia – Transphobia – Violence – Police brutality.

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